Department of History & School of History, Religions and Philosophies

Dr Hengameh Ziai

Key information

Department of History Lecturer in the History of the Middle East and Africa
BA (Oxon), MSc (Oxon), MA (London), PhD (Columbia).
Russell Square: College Buildings
Email address
Telephone number
020 7898 4692
Support hours
Tuesday 3:30- 4:30pm (by appointment)


Hengameh (Henny) Ziai is a Lecturer in the History of Middle East and Africa at SOAS, University of London.

Her research lies at the intersection of political theory, critical political economy, and Islamic studies, with a focus on formations of the colonial and the emergence of modern political subjectivity in Sudan during the long nineteenth century.

She is currently converting her doctoral thesis, entitled “Ploughing for the Hereafter: Debt, Time, and Mahdist Resistance in Northern Sudan, 1821-1935,” into a book manuscript. Her thesis approaches the Mahdist insurgency (1881-1898) against Ottoman rule not as a political event but as an extraordinary conceptual repository, a starting point from which to rethink some of the key categories of political economy, including debt, property, and law. In doing so, it offers an account of the constitution of the distinct spheres of the ‘religious’ and the ‘economic,’ of ‘Islam’ and ‘political economy.’

A second project, tentatively entitled ‘Archives of Crisis,’ makes use of a rare collection of papers of a major nineteenth-century Sudanese merchant, Abdullah Bey Hamza, which she is digitising with the British Library's Endangered Archives Programme. She is using this archive to reconstruct a history of capitalism in the Indian Ocean world, spanning from Darfur to the Red Sea. More specificially, she examines the emergence of large commercial archives and the rapid proliferation of contracts—their materiality and textuality—as a lens through which to understand crisis, and particularly the interconnections between slavery, race, and colonialism.

Prior to joining SOAS, Henny was a postdoctoral fellow in the Agrarian Studies Program at Yale University, where she began a project on the genealogical origins of neoliberal concepts like ‘human capital’ in theories of underdevelopment, especially relating to peasants and agriculture. She examines in detail the influence of Chicago School development economists such as Theodore W. Schultz. In doing so, she seeks to trace an alternative account of the rise of neoliberal reason from the one presented by Foucault in his lectures on The Birth of Biopolitics, one rooted in reconfigurations of power in the moment of decolonisation and in the Global South. She is currently examining how these ideas influenced World Bank interventions in Third World agriculture, including Sudan’s Gezira Scheme.

Henny received her PhD from the department of Middle Eastern, South Asian and African Studies, Columbia University, her master’s degrees in African Studies and Middle East Studies from the University of Oxford and SOAS respectively, and her BA in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics from the University of Oxford.

Research interests

Postcolonial Theory, Critical Political Economy, Islamic Studies, African Studies, Middle East Studies, Ottoman History, Legal History, Science and Technology Studies, Histories of Capitalism, Anthropologies of Debt and Neoliberalism.


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